On March 9th 1842, the Milanese public attended the première of the opera and was captivated
Nabucco was born under a favourable star, considering the fact that everything that could have gone wrong actually contributed instead in a positive sense'. This is how Giuseppe Verdi spoke about his third opera, a veritable leap in the launching of his career which from that moment on met with outstanding success. The history of the success of Nabucco however, was relatively tarnished which is worth elaborating on.
After the success of the first opera by Verdi, Oberto, Conte di S. Bonifacio, performed at the Scala in 1839, the impresario of the Milanese theatre Bartolomeo Merelli had obtained a commitment from Verdi to compose two other operas to be performed in the following seasons. The second opera of the young composer Un giorno di Regno was not as successful as the first, and was performed only once. This is not surprising, if you consider that between 1838 and 1840 Verdi's world was torn apart by the death of his two children and his wife. The unsuccessfulness of his last opera and the pain due to the loss of his loved ones drove the musician to the decision of never writing an opera again. This meant breaking the contract with Merelli who hadn't lost his faith in Verdi and who confirmed this faith to him.
It was really due to Merelli that the composer started to write new operas. One winter evening the two of them met up on the street and the impresario entrusted him with the manuscript of a new libretto by Temistocle Solera, which had been refused by the German composer Nicolai. In this way Verdi found himself again in the possession of a libretto which he had no intention of reading and consequently, as soon as he arrived home, he threw it on the table. Following this jest, the manuscript opened and the composer read a verse which awakened his curiosity: 'Va' Pensiero sull'ali dorate'. He began to read the successive verses and was so fascinated that he spent the night reading the libretto, reaching the point where he almost knew the text off by heart.
The event, however, did not dissuade him from his decision never to write music again. In fact, he went back to Merelli to return the manuscript to him, but the impresario didn't want to listen to excuses and forced him to keep the libretto, urging him to put it to music.
At that stage destiny had taken its course, and the verses of Solera had already entered into Verdi's heart. Day after day he found the strength to compose the notes: in the autumn of 1841 the opera Nabucco was complete. The irony was that it was actually Verdi then who went looking for Merelli, to ask him to insert the new opera in the poster for the carnival-lent season of 1841.
The impresario appeared to be hesitant, however, as he had already programmed three unpublished operas by established authors for that period. To insert the opera of a debutant involved a risk for everyone and Merelli warmly advised Verdi to wait until the spring. Furthermore, the theatre had had to sustain a lot of expenses for the other operas: for the scenes and costumes of Nabucco they would have had to use the existing material from the store room. The young musician didn't want to give in however, and continued to insist, succeeding finally in obtaining the long-awaited date. The opera was fixed for the beginning of March. Various important artists were in the cast, such as the baritone Giorgio Ronconi, who played the role of Nabucco and the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi (Verdi's future wife) who played the role of Abigaille.
On March 9th 1842, after only twelve days of rehearsals, the Milanese public attended the première of the opera and was completely captivated.
Despite the universal fact that it was Va' Pensiero which deserved the encore, in reality it was the Immenso Jehovah which obtained the most generous applause. The enthusiasm of the spectators grew at every performance, so much so that the opera was performed seventy five times before the end of the year. A success for Verdi without precedent and which revealed his true talent in all its glory. With the passing of time Va' Pensiero became the most famous air of Nabucco.
The Jewish population was, in fact, similar to the people of Lombardo-Veneto who were obliged to endure the Austrian domination, and the tune for the freedom of the slaves in Babylon was the tune of the oppressed Italians. Verdi was a veritable point of reference for the patriotic Italians who suggested that Va' Pensiero become the national anthem. This proposal was never carried out, but the fame of Nabucco was linked to the air of the third act, which is sung by the great chorus.
From Nabucco onwards the young man from Bussetto moved towards the career which allowed him to become one of the most admired and loved musicians of his era.